Review of Heroines: An Anthology of Short Fiction & Poetry

by Yvette Gilfillan

Women are extraordinary—they are intelligent, resourceful, strong and beautiful. But over time, the patriarchy has reduced the fiery goddesses of mythology and the brave, gentle princesses of folklore to nothing more than a man’s literary accompaniment.

Heroines doesn’t just challenge this notion—it destroys it, using meta-narrative, irony, satire and characterisation to thread together an explosive string of poetry and short fiction, in an anthology that is produced solely by women.

Sarah Nicholson, a writer and academic who specialises in creative arts and gender studies, and Caitlin White, a social media and blogging expert, have joined forces to curate and edit a collection from women who are at the top of their game.

Sarah Nicholson and Caitlin White

With contributions from both award-winning Australian authors and international stars, this anthology boasts a selection of the very best women’s writing has to offer. Many of the contributors are published authors, hold multiple university degrees, and are committed to reimagining the heroines of legend, fairytale and mythology in new and exciting ways.

Totally badass.

The collection as a whole was unflinchingly feminist, and I found myself entertained and utterly absorbed all at once. Traditional conventions of literature and gender identity were subverted time and time again, giving the power back to these incredible women—and to imagine what they might have said, if only they were given the chance.

Heroines opens with a poem from Maddie Godfrey that immediately caught my eye, right from the title. After reading that it was called ‘The Goddess Texts All Her Exes’, I thought, brilliant. This is the type of modern, female-driven mythology that I signed up for.

Maddie’s quirky sense of humour is woven throughout their poem, making ‘the goddess of loneliness’ an endearing character—and therefore all the more poignant when she stands alone.

The poem opens as the goddess of loneliness ‘opens Spotify and plugs her / Aux cord into every streetlight’. She ‘orders a burger on Chariot-Eats’, cursing the ‘slow delivery time’ (can relate).

But it was these lines I loved the most:

‘the goddess of loneliness promises herself that she is

still ethereal when reaching out. that being a little off

balance does not mean you don’t deserve a pedestal.’

Another contribution of note was Annika Herb’s short story, ‘The Girl and the Narratorial Intrusion’. She depicts a fair maiden who learns and grows with the dangers of the world, rather than staying the same and needing a “Prince Charming” to rescue her.

The ironic narrator joins her on her journey, ‘because sometimes they got really sick of just watching these same old stories, you know?’ In this compelling fairytale, Annika presents a female character who adapts to her surroundings on her own terms.

Emily Brewin also subverts the necessity of a Prince Charming character, but in a much more sinister way. Her short story ‘Fairy tale Endings’ had my full attention, lit by the fire of a slow-burning suspense narrative. The female characters—Bec and Noush—meet a handsome man called Jacques, who exposes them to the darker underside of human nature … when the women around him leave him ‘smaller than before’. But in a continuation of a theme that resonates throughout the whole anthology, Bec takes her power back.

Therese Doherty’s poem ‘The Fisherman and the Cormorant’ soared with stunning lines of imagery, encapsulating the flight of a half-woman, half-bird after she is cursed by a man who ‘wanted to grow his own power by stealing from [hers]’. Therese’s vivid poetry makes the reader believe they are there, with ‘supple wings instead of arms, and dark as night feathers’.

With an excellent variety of both original and historical heroines, this collection also includes the work of renowned writer Elise Kelly, whose poem ‘Gorgon Girls’ erodes the stone façade of Medusa, portraying her ‘[as] a woman first’. Elise does not back down from difficult topics like rape, which are inextricably linked to the female condition:

‘Like Medusa, so many of us find stony defeat in our mirrored reflections

And like Medusa, when we are raped by a God who answers to no one, it is us who

are made the monsters.’

All in all, Heroines ticked off every sphere of interest I have in literature: strong female writers and characters, danger, romance, passion, and a penchant for not playing by the rules.

If you would like to purchase your own copy of Heroines and support Neo Perennial Press, Sarah, Caitlin, and all of the amazing women who gave their time and effort to be a part of this project, click here.

Congratulations to you all—and thank you Sarah for providing me with a copy for review.

Written by SCWC

Posted on January 17, 2019